SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KETK) Three gang members charged with murder for the shooting death of a man back in May will no longer be facing their original charges.
Joshua Ray Tibbits, 29, of Waco, Jose Antonio Valenzuela, 31, of Longview, Jeffery Ryan Griffin, 30, of Hewitt, were all charged with murder after a Ben Wheeler man was found shot to death off Farm-to-Market Road 850 in Chapel Hill.
Now, according to judicial records, all three men have been indicted for the charge of organized criminal activity.
All three men have a plea docket agreement set for August 3, and a jury trial date set for September 21.
According to Smith County officials, 33-year-old Brandon Edwards was riding his motorcycle Saturday, May 2 just before 5 p.m. when he was shot, causing him to crash.
He was pronounced dead at the scene when police and EMS workers arrived.
When the three suspects were arrested, Sheriff Larry R. Smith stated:
“I continue to be amazed at the tenacity, cohesiveness and never quit attitude of all of these law enforcement entities that are working so well together. No one is concerned with who gets the credit, only that justice is served. This is one of the more complex investigations in which we were able to join local law enforcement with the Texas Anti-Gang Unit since its inception. The TAG is already paying off big dividends.”
DETAILS OF THE WARRANT
According to an arrest warrant obtained by KETK News, when investigators arrived to the scene, they found Edwards wearing a motorcycle jacket that depicted him to be a member of the 1%er Cossacks Motorcycle club.
Detectives found casings for both 9mm and 40-caliber handguns at the scene, which suggested multiple shooters. The warrant said that investigators also were able to locate security footage from a neighbor that showed a white Doge Ram truck chasing Edwards on his motorcycle at a high rate of speed less than half a mile from where Edwards died.
Investigators then began to research the Original Ugly Man Cossack Club and located a Facebook profile under the name “Jose Antonio Barcelona”, which ended up belong to Jose Antonio Valenzuela, 31, who was a Regional Sergeant at Arms for the Original Cossack Motorcycle Club.
While researching the profile, deputies found a white flatbed truck in photos that appeared similar to the one on the neighbor’s security footage. Investigators then set up surveillance at Valenzuela’s home in Longview on Monday, May 4 and found a white 2018 Dodge Ram in the driveway.
He eventually left with multiple passengers and headed down I-20 heading west toward Dallas. Deputies followed him and witnessed his truck make multiple lane changes without signaling and pulled the vehicle over for the traffic violation.
Valenzuela and all the passengers were taken to the Smith County Sheriff’s Office for questioning. The names of the other passengers were redacted in the warrant, but one witness said that the day of the murder there was a cookout at Valenzuela’s home. The witness said that Valenzuela left during it to go to Tyler to “handle something.”
When they returned later in the day, the witness saw 29-year-old Joshua Tibbits of Waco also come back with Valenzuela. Later that night, the witness saw news headlines about Edward’s death and became worried that the two were involved.
Detectives then began interviewing Valenzuela, who initially said that he never left his home on the day of the murder during the cookout and he had partied with his friends all Friday and Saturday. Investigators told Valenzuela that his own wife told them that he had indeed left the house. Valenzuela then said he did to handle “sensitive club business” but maintained that he was alone.
The warrant states that he then said he stopped at a Whataburger in Liberty City and then said he would not be alone on camera.
Valenzuela allegedly changed his story a third time by saying the “real story” was Cossack members were with him to provide security while he went to have sex with another member’s wife. He stated the husband of the woman was a member that he did not like.
Investigators beleived the other two men to be Tibbits and Jeffrey Griffin, 30.
Detectives then showed Valenzuela the security video of the truck chasing Edwards and he became defensive saying “That’s not my truck, it just looks like my truck.” He then became upset that deputies were trying to pin the murder on him and he requested an attorney.
Investigators tracked down Griffin in Hewitt, who also initially denied being involved in the murder. Detectives then showed him the footage from the Whataburger and from just before Edwards’ death. Griffin’s “demeanor changed and he began to appear concerned.” He then requested an attorney.
Tibbits was later arrested in Waco on Tuesday and by Wednesday all three were in custody. They are all being held each on $2.5 million bond in the Smith County Jail.
The warrant did not lay out a specific motive for Edward’s death.